Jefferson County teachers grapple with potential layoffs

January 30, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Chastity Plaza, a special education teacher at Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Middle School, might lose her job because she's four months shy of earning her second master's degree.
By Richard F. Belisle/Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Chastity Plaza, a special education teacher at Shepherdstown Middle School, might lose her job this year because she’s four months shy of earning her second master’s degree.

Plaza’s name is on a list of 33 teachers in Jefferson County Schools who have been notified that their contracts might end this year because of declining revenues totaling $5.3 million over the last four years.

Twelve school service personnel also are on the Reduction in Force (RIF) list.

They are among 66 of the district’s least-tenured school employees, professional and service personnel, who could lose their jobs, four days of pay a year or stipends for supervising extra-curricular activities.

The district has about 1,300 employees.

On Monday night, the five-member Jefferson County Board of Education held its third hearing since early January for teachers and service personnel to appeal their status on the list. Three of Monday’s four hearings were held in executive session at the employee’s request.

In the previous hearings the board voted 3-2 to uphold school district Superintendent Susan Wall’s recommendations to terminate the employees if it becomes necessary. The board, by law, must notify employees who make the list by Feb. 1. All will be placed on a recall list should positions reopen once the fiscal 2012-13 budget is adopted, Wall has said.

The board is offering a one-time $1,000 incentive to employees eligible to retire.

More than 50 teachers, service personnel and concerned parents held candles and protest signs in a long line in front of the school district’s central office on Mordington Avenue in support of those on the RIF list.

They milled outside the board’s meeting room during the executive sessions and many seemed willing to talk.

“These are one- and two-year teachers,” said Stephanie Unger, a sixth-grade teacher at Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Middle School. She said four of the school’s 33 teachers are on the RIF list.

“What’s most disheartening is that they are fresh out of college and they chose to stay here rather than go to Maryland or Virginia where they could make more money. This is what they get.”

“They have student loans, new families and mortgages. They bought homes because they had jobs,” Unger said.

While a few administrators and central office professionals have seen their contracts cut by four days a year, none will be laid off, several teachers said.

“They need a lot more (administrators) than that,” teacher Robin Wratchford said.

Debbie Royalty has no children in school. She came in support of those facing loss of their jobs, she said.

“Educating children is the most important thing any community can do,” she said.

“We’ve hung on as long as possible, but now we have to look at all areas to make this (the shortfall) up,” Wall said in an interview last week. Layoffs will be determined by seniority and certification, she said.

“It will affect mostly new teachers,” she said.
That’s Chastity Plaza’s dilemma.

Plaza, of Shepherdstown, said she’s only been teaching special education at Shepherdstown Middle school for 15 months. She graduated from county public schools, earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Shepherd University and a master’s in the field from the University of Maryland.

She took 10 years off when her three children were little and returned to college to work on a master’s degree in special education. She will graduate from that program in May, but that’s too late to keep her off the RIF list.

“If I already had my degree, I wouldn’t be on it,” she said.

Plaza was one of the teachers waiting in the hall to make her appeal to  the school board Monday. She said she would show the members her current college records, show them her 4.0 scholastic average, and ask them “to keep me in Jefferson Middle School.”

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